The FERMENTATION Interview With a Booze Wholesaler
The other day the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America, the national trade association for the alcohol wholesale tier in the U.S., released a statement from their CEO, Michelle Korsmo in response to an opinion piece in USA Today that suggested maybe now is the time to consider changing an alcohol distribution system that is old and sclerotic.
The statement was, well, pretty much the same statement the WSWA has been putting out now for 30 years. Still, having read it, I was curious and thought there was more the wholesalers could add to the topic.
So, I went about looking for a wholesaler representative to interview. Below is that short but revealing interview with a wholesaler executive.
Fermentation: How are wholesalers reacting to the Covid-19 pandemic and have they had to significantly alter how they distribute wine?
Wholesaler Executive: The three-tier system. Good.
Fermentation: Right. OK. But what in general has been the process by which wholesalers have had to adapt to the reality of fewer on-premise accounts and increased volume at many off-premise accounts?
Wholesaler Executive: Three Tiers! Yummy.
Fermentation: Yes. I see. Fine. Let’s talk about the three-tier system. It’s been the governing paradigm for alcohol distribution for 85 years. We’ve seen some loosening with the rise of smaller artisan wineries and distilleries and craft brewers. Direct sales, self-distribution have come to most states to one degree or another. Has this loosening of the three-tier system forced wholesalers to adapt and change?
Wholesaler Executive: Bad!! Bad, bad, bad!! Three-tier system is fine.
Fermentation: That’s kind of evasive. I’m just trying to suggest that it would seem the wholesaler tier would have to adjust to modern realities and there may be opportunities.
Wholesaler Executive: Vote Nixon!!!
Fermentation: Let’s try it this way. Recently it was suggested in a press release that it has been the wholesalers and the three-tier system that is responsible for the increase in product choice and diversity that consumers have had access to ove the past 20 to 30 years. Isn’t it fair to say that the increase in product diversity over the past three decades has been more a result of consumers demanding more diversity, supporting diverse product choices and producers responding?
Wholesaler Executive: Yellowtail on program this week. Buy 50 cases and steak knives are yours.
Fermentation: Ok, but honestly, isn’t true that…
Wholesaler Executive: We have Bud tap handles!!!
Fermentation: …isn’t it, but isn’t it true wholesalers have spent millions of dollars attempting to diminish the ways by which consumers can access the increased number of products?
Wholesaler Executive:…um….THREE TIER SYSTEM!!!!!!
Fermentation: Indeed! Thank you.